Giving feedback is a necessary form of communication and can be applied in many different facets of life—parenting, work, school, religious responsibilities, and more. For some, receiving feedback can be difficult, especially when the person is firm in their habits and opinions. On the other hand, when feedback is given too late, the consequences of one’s actions are already inevitable. Regardless, feedback is an important part of life and should be welcomed when the situation permits.
But what about those times when feedback isn’t helpful? In the aftermath of an unfortunate situation, the last thing your teen wants to hear is what they should have done differently. They most likely know what they should have done differently, but that advice would have been very helpful before the unfortunate situation occurred in the first place. At Not By Chance, we like to call this feedforward. It’s similar to feedback, but it’s almost always more beneficial because it can help someone avoid doing something they regret. In a nutshell, feedforward can keep someone from making a preventable mistake.
Knowing the difference between feedback and feedforward can help your teenager find more success and joy in their journey by minimizing the pain they feel along the way. Some pain is of course necessary and inevitable for growth, but giving them feedforward can help set them up for a great life ahead.
The Blind Man Metaphor
If there is a blind man approaching a set of stairs, it is unhelpful to tell him to watch out for the staircase after he has fallen down. He now knows the staircase is there and he’s facing the consequences of his actions—whether it’s a few bruises or even a broken bone. Feedforward would have been given as someone saw the blind man at the top of the stairs, stopped him, and let him know there was a staircase ahead. They might also have led him to the handrail so he could make it down safely. This would have saved him from injury.
It sounds like a simple principle, but when you are working with teens, it’s hard to know how your feedforward will be received. There are a few things that factor into their reaction that you should consider. First, if you’re not careful, feedforward can come off as judgmental, controlling, or lecturing. Your teen might not be in the right headspace to receive what you have to say. If this is a roadblock you experience, try assessing your delivery and see how it can be improved. If you come from a place of sincere love and concern, your kids will be more likely to accept what you have to say.
Another Real Example of Feedforward
Another example that might help as a parent to navigate the feedforward process is an experience I had. I injured my neck as a result of chipping ice off the driveway with a pickaxe one winter. I had to cut my family vacation short and spent Christmas alone because I was in such severe pain. I spent the next few months recovering, and it was a long, painful road.
A few years later I was using the same pickaxe in my yard, and my son (knowing what happened last time), offered to take over for me because he was concerned about my neck injury. My son knew what could happen if I continued working with the pickaxe, so he stepped in to help. This could have saved me from another few months of painful recovery.
Sometimes your teens will receive your feedforward well, but sometimes they won’t. The best thing you can do is lead with love. Don’t deliver it in a judgmental or degrading way—let your child know you love them and want the best for them, which is why you are offering your advice.
It’s important to remember that even if they don’t listen to what you have to say, they will still learn a valuable lesson out of the experience and you can have peace of mind knowing you have done everything you can to set them up for success.
To learn more about this topic listen to the Not by Chance Podcast Episode: “Give Feedforward Not Feedback” on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.